Leadership Lessons in the Movie 12 Angry Men

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Leadership Lessons in The Movie 12 Angry Men

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Through the film 12 Angry Men one is able to examine many of the lessons learned around exemplary leadership. The film presents a microcosm of culture and organization, as well as the dynamics surrounding leadership, including emotional intelligence, vision and strategy. The film centers on the decision-making process of 12 men, and how one man - by pulling on different leadership levers - is able to change a life or death outcome.

12 Angry Men brings together a heterogenous group of men, from different cultural, social, professional and educational backgrounds. Each character has a very distinct personality, including different biases and prejudice that shape their judgements. Through the different interactions one is able to see how these factors influence each character’s behavior and how their different degrees of cultural and emotional intelligence play a role in both their decision-making process and their ability to achieve a desired outcome. This becomes particularly evident when you compare two dichotomous characters: Juror #3 with Juror #8. Since the beginning, Juror #3 is very vocal about his belief that the accused is guilty, trying to impose his vison upon the rest of the group. He displays a coercive leadership style, commanding people to do as he says. Instead of motivation, which Kotter argues is a more effective leading mechanism, he tries to push “them in the right direction as a control mechanism.” His strategy of using logic and restating the arguments stated in court, ends up backfiring, as when he gets pressed, he ends up contradicting himself. Through his actions and words, one can also see he has low degrees of emotional intelligence, unable to self-regulate and losing his temper many times. While his desired outcome is to get consensus around a “guilty” vote, he is unable to do this because of his lack of emotional intelligence, displaying aggression and eventually losing the respect of the rest of the jurors.Conversely, Juror #8 is able to achieve his desired outcome due to his leadership skills, and represents a foil to Juror #3.

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Throughout the film, Juror #8 epitomizes Daniel Goleman’s “Focused Leader”, exhibiting high degrees of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness and self-management. Since the beginning of the film you see Juror #8 separate himself from the rest of the crowd, staring out the window and reflecting. Juror #8 is very self-aware and intuitive, saying something doesn’t “feel” right and has the courage and conviction to oppose the other eleven men with a “not guilty” verdict. He begins by presenting his vision of the possibility of innocence, setting a strategy of re-examining the evidence and “talking it out”. As Kotter states in “What Leaders Really Do”, this ability to set direction is a key aspect of leadership and sets the groundwork for the rest of the film. Juror #8 is also very good at self-management, being able to control his emotions and impulses, even as he continuously gets attacked. Through his continuous display of honesty and integrity he is able to earn the trust and respect of the rest of the jurors.

Juror #8 also exhibits many of the skills that Goleman argues for effective leadership in “Leadership that Get Results.” He has high degrees of social awareness and social skills, that allow him to sway the rest of the jurors to reconsider their vote. Through the films he proves to be very effective at managing social interactions and clearly understands group dynamics. In terms of social awareness, he demonstrates empathy for the accused, creating a mental picture for the rest of the jurors around what it would be like to grew up like the accused. He is able to get empathy from some of the other jurors, in particular Juror #5, who could relate, as he was also raised in the slums. Juror #8 also exhibits organization awareness, seen through his ability to build decision networks. He is able to navigate the politics that begin to form in that small court room, calling for additional votes anytime he felt that opinions might change. While for Juror #8 emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a vital role, it is his ability to combine it with IQ that truly allows him to be successful. Some of the other jurors in the room require more “logos” to be convinced. One that particularly stands out is Juror #4, who is portrayed as the more analytical of the group. He relies on reasoning and critical thinking, and therefore appealing to his emotions proves difficult. However, Juror #8 is able to do this, making it personal and questioning him about details of the last movie he attended. Through this interaction he is able to combine EQ and IQ, eventually instilling reasonable doubt. It can also be argued that Juror #8 is a transformational leader. Seemingly unknowingly, Juror #8 embarks in a process of change – in this case, a change of opinion. He follows many of the steps outlined in Kotter’s “Leading Change”, establishing a sense of urgency early on (“this is a man’s life we are talking about”) and communicating his vision effectively throughout the entire process. By asking probing questions and verbalizing his concerns, he was able to create doubt among the other jurors around their “guilty” verdict, and slowly was able to build his coalition. Finally, he was able to empower other to act on his vision, encouraging each member to speak, especially when he noticed they might be reconsidering their verdict.

As with organizational change, as the film progresses, we witness different characters’ go through Kubler-Ross’ change curve – starting with shock around Juror #8 voting not guilty, to denial that the jurors will change their verdict, to frustration and anger among many of them regarding the situation. However, as Juror #8 continues to poke holes in the evidence, making the other jurors question some of their original assumption, more and more of the jurors begin entering the exploration phase until finally they all reach acceptance. Through this film one can also see aspects of an organization, in the sense that no one is completely autonomous, but depend on each other to reach a consensus. As within organizations, we see the formation of an organizational culture, where social influence plays an important role on how the different jurors react. At first, when they are all strangers and there is no true sense of belonging, we are able to witness an example of the “bandwagon effect”, where a few of the more determined jurors raise their hand quickly on the “guilty” vote, while some of the more unsure jurors only do so after looking around and sensing the pressure. This sort of behavior is common in organizations where people don’t feel safe to express their opinions, illustrating the importance of an open organizational culture. As Juror #8 has very high levels of EQ, after he presents his argument, he senses that some of the jurors might have changed their minds. To avoid this initial herd mentality, he asks for an anonymous vote, giving an opportunity to individuals to disagree in a safer environment. As he expected, he is able to convert one additional vote to “not guilty.” As time passes, Juror #8 continues building a culture of leadership, by aligning individuals and motivating each of the jurors to speak. As this culture of openness starts building, some of the quieter jurors begin to speak up, feeling empowered to express their views. Through this microcosm of organizational culture, we see some of the elements defined in Jesper B. Sorensen’s “Note on Organizational Culture”. One example is the creation of a normative order and an informal social control system. As time progresses, outburst and aggressiveness are less and less tolerated and when Juror #10 goes on his racist rant, everyone turns their back to him, as now this is no longer acceptable behavior.

12 Angry Men provides an example of exemplary leadership in practice, and how one man through his combination of leadership skills and organizational and cultural awareness, was able to save a man’s life.

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